Ottawa police launch 'surge and contain' strategy to manage protesters

Ottawa police say they'll increase their presence and further restrict access to the city's downtown to control what's expected to be another weekend of noisy protests, but they warn the situation remains volatile and dangerous.

Hundreds more trucks and thousands more people expected this weekend

Ottawa police deploying additional officers amid ongoing protest

1 year ago
Duration 1:56
About 150 additional police officers will be on patrol in Ottawa as the city braces for another weekend of protest against COVID-19 mandates. Officers will be addressing 'unlawful threatening conduct' in the most affected neighbourhoods, says the city's police Chief Peter Sloly

The latest protest developments:

Ottawa police say they'll increase their presence and further restrict access to the city's downtown to control what's expected to be another weekend of noisy protests, but they warn the situation remains volatile and dangerous.

In a Friday morning news release, police said the new "surge and contain strategy" means there will immediately be about 150 more officers dedicated to patrolling central Ottawa neighbourhoods and enforcing laws — as they're being broken or by getting evidence to act at a later, safer time.

It also means more heavy barricades to manage traffic and more intelligence work with provincial and national help to lay charges, including against those planning and funding illegal activity.

Details on the road closures are coming later Friday. Interprovincial bridges and highway ramps could again be closed, police say, and people coming into the city to protest are being sent to parking lots outside the core.

Police Chief Peter Sloly said in a Friday news conference police are moving to isolate and contain people inside the "red zone" on Wellington Street in front of Parliament Hill.

A trucker speaks with a police officer on Wednesday as protests against COVID-19 rules continue in Ottawa. Ottawa police have launched a 'surge and contain' strategy to manage protesters, leading into what's expected to be another weekend of noisy protests. (Blair Gable/Reuters)

"The demonstrators in the red zone area remain highly organized, well-funded [and] extremely committed to resisting all attempts to end the demonstration safely," Sloly said.

"This remains, as it was from the beginning, an increasingly volatile and increasingly dangerous demonstration."

He said he and other unnamed city officials have received death threats in the last two days that are under investigation.

Crowd size intelligence

Deputy chief Steve Bell said Friday their intelligence suggests 300 to 400 more trucks, 1,000 to 2,000 more protesters and up to 1,000 counter-protesters could come downtown for the weekend.

Those numbers are likely to decline again starting Monday, Bell added. He asked counter-protesters not to come.

That request was echoed by Ottawa Centre MPP Joel Harden in a tweet.

"I'm not attending the Ottawa counter-protest tomorrow, and I encourage everyone to avoid it too. No serious preparation for safety has been made, and this is a volatile situation," Harden wrote. 

WATCH | Deputy police chief asks counter-protesters to reconsider:

Ottawa police ask residents not to attend weekend counter-protest

1 year ago
Duration 1:12
Deputy Chief Steve Bell says a counter-protest will add another challenging element for police to manage. Up to 2,000 more protesters and 1,000 counter-protesters are expected downtown over the weekend.

On Tuesday, police said only 250 protesters remained downtown. Police did not offer a vehicle count then, but said Friday that "thousands" of trucks had come last weekend and that number had declined as the week went on.

Bell said in hindsight, they didn't expect these numbers of trucks in residential areas and would have done more to steer them away had they known.

There is still no timeline for removing all trucks, Sloly said Friday.

Trucks parked in downtown Ottawa on Feb. 2, 2022. (Christian Milette/CBC)

He said the effects on vulnerable people in the city have been heartbreaking, citing an example of two people living at a YMCA near police headquarters that stopped to talk to him outside the station earlier this week.

"They expressed their frustration and their fear. They also expressed their understanding for the incredibly difficult job we are doing and the work we have done to support them thus far," Sloly said.

"I understand there is a wide range of opinions around the efficacy of our efforts to date but we have done absolutely the best we can to keep this city safe, to keep residents like that safe.

"We need to do better, we're committed to doing better and we now have more intelligence and allies to do better."

Premier Doug Ford called what's happening in the city unacceptable, saying it "was no longer a protest, but an occupation" that needs to end during a virtual press conference with Canadian premiers. 

"To all Ontarians, we are moving in the right direction — please don't lose sight of that,' Ford said in a press release. 

Councillors organize community safety walk

Some city councillors of downtown wards walked the streets on Friday and say they will continue to do so throughout the weekend to keep residents safe.

Somerset Ward Coun. Catherine McKenney and Capital Ward Coun. Shawn Menard said they're watching for bad behaviour. Kitchissippi Ward Coun. Jeff Leiper said the walkers are not protesting and not carrying signs, so not to incite reaction. 

McKenney welcomed the announcement of additional officers, but said they wanted the RCMP to take over policing in and around Parliament Hill, as they laid out in a letter to the prime minister on Thursday. 

"We need the federal government to take over on the Hill. We need all of our resources here [in Centretown]. What will happen is this: they can deploy an extra 100, 150 officers, but if things heat up on the Hill that's where the focus will go," McKenney told CBC.

WATCH | Police accused of 'hypocrisy' by 2020 protest organizer: 

Ottawa police accused of ‘hypocrisy’ by 2020 protest organizer

1 year ago
Duration 2:02
The organizer of a protest in downtown Ottawa in 2020 has accused the police of 'hypocrisy' saying they were treated very differently. That demonstration, while different from the convoy, resulted in quick arrests and charges laid against protestors.

City council will hold a special meeting on Monday at 1 p.m., to talk about impacts of the demonstration on the city's residents and businesses.

Menard said calling a state of emergency may be discussed. 

With files from Olivia Stefanovich